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History of the Italian Mission (or Church)

"Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses I a wild, motley, throng---
Men from the, Volga and the Tartar Steppes,
Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Seythian, Teuton, Celt, and Slav,
Flying the old world's poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites.
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws,
In street and: alley what strange tongues are these,
Accents of menace alien to our air!

"Oh Liberty, White Goddess! is it well 
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow's children, soothe the hurts of fate,
Lift the downtrodden, but with the hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of freedom. Have a care
Lest from thy brow the clustered stars be torn
And trampled in the dust. For so of old
The thronging Goth and Vandal trampled Rome.
And where the temples of the Caesars stood
The lean wolf unmolested made her lair.'' ---T. B. B. ALDRICH.

It is not a question to-day as to whether the aliens will come. They are coming into our country a million a year, and from every clime, country and condition, and every sort, good, bad, and indifferent ambitious and aimless. They form today the raw material of the American citizenship of tomorrow. What they will be and do then, depends largely upon what our American Protestant Christianity does for them now. Altoona being a city of over 65,000 of a population, and her industries and progress in these last few years demanding much of the kind of labor the Italian men would do, thronged our city with this class of people until Ninth Avenue, from Fourth Street to Seventeenth or Eighteenth Street, was almost entirely populated by them, and it began to look very much as though God was sending them to our very doors.

In 1904, under Rev. Horace Geraldi, the work was begun. He worked largely from home to home, as the opportunities wouldpermit. The work at that time was encouraged and managed very largely by Rev. J. Ellis Bell, presiding elder. In the spring of 1906, Rev. Geraldi left, and Rev. Angelo W. Bonacci was sent to take up the work. During the latter part of Rev. Geraldi's term, services were conducted in part of the old market house on Ninth Avenue and Eleventh street. The members of the other Methodist churches attended the services and especially the members of Eighth Avenue Church. This Church has always been known as a missionary church, and when the Italian mission was started, Messrs. Green, Rhodes, and Miss Elsie Schwartz rendered valuable service to this work. The attendance and interest shown on the part of the Italian people greatly encouraged the work.

A property on the corner of Eighth Ave., and Sixth Street was bought from Mr. Laurence Fagan. The lot was 60 X 120 feet, on which were a double house, single house, and other small buildings, the price being $7,000.00. On September 28, 1906, a payment was made, of $1,000.00. This amount was collected by Rev. B. C. Conner, A. W. Bonacci, the pastor, and other friends of the cause.

On September 1, the service was transferred to the corner of Eighth Avenue and Sixth Street. The one side of the double house was used for this purpose until about April, 1, 1909, at which time there was a change of pastor, Rev. A. W. Bonacci going to Buffalo, and Rev. Joseph Paciarelli coming from Buffalo to Altoona. The room then in use, was entirely inadequate for the services, so in the fall of 1908, the new church enterprise was started. Mr. H. A. Hutchison, of the First Church, rendering invaluable help. He does not claim to be an architect, but his experience on the building committee at First Church, gave him considerable knowledge on this kind of work, hence he drew the plans (or planned the drawings) for the building, and looked after the work in general. Rev. B. C. Conner stated in the conference minutes that he wanted to publicly acknowledge the invaluable service H. A. Hutchison rendered to this work.

The work was carried forward so that the basement was ready for use, and was occupied on April 1909, Easter Sunday. The main auditorium has not yet been completed. The cost of the building approximately is $5000.00, $4,000.0 of which has been paid. As soon as the $1,000.00 is paid, the building will be completed.

Miss Sadie J. Sheffer, deaconess, has been connected with the mission since June 15, 1907, and her work has been most efficient and successful, especially in the kindergarten and the Sunday School. So that some may know the good that is being done by the deaconess, I will mention some of her duties. A report to the Fourth Quarterly Conference, 1908, states: 593 calls, 90 meetings attended, 10 churches visited in the interest of the mission work, 175 hours spent in special service and night school, private lessons, 70, letters written 10. Shereported that in all her experience she had never seen such interest shown, especially among the mothers, one of whom sent for the deaconess to come and take her baby's name for the cradle roll. She reported (61) members on the cradle roll. God has opened the Italian homes for the gospel through these children. Another very commendable feature is the kindergarten work. The present enrollment at this time, February 20, '08, is 31, and the average attendance 15, a splendid report for that season of the year. Two little girls who were gathering coal along the railroad, out of school, with no one one to take any interest in them, were spoken to, and were found ready to be helped in any way. In a short time the two interesting young girls were found in the Sunday School, and are regular attendants in the sewing school and day school.

The mission, in all her departments, is doing fine work. Not withstanding the number of their people who were suspended, and returned to their native land, the church has been having a continual growth. One feature about the church worth speaking of, is that every charge Rev. Conner ever served has put a window in as a token of respect to him. These charges are: Sinnemahoning, Grace Church, Williamsport; Ridge Avenue, Harrisburg; First Church, York; Mulbery, Williamsport; Bloomsburg; First Church, Altoona. The other windows were donated by the kindergarten, taught by Miss Sheffer, Queen Esther Circle of Fifth Avenue Church, "The Happy Helpers," a band of High School girls the Sunday School, at Hollidaysburg, and the one at Roaring Springs.

The work, under the efficient hand and care of Rev. Paciarelli, has been progressing very rapidly. The little church is very beautiful, and is attracting the attention of many. The pastor and members hold open air meetings each Sunday afternoon, and they are very well attended, the interest shown by the young men, being very gratifying. The new comers are a challenge to the Christians of our city. Shall we extend the hand of Christian brotherhood to these strangers at our doors? God has told us very plainly in his word that he has made of one blood all nations, and these men whom we regard as foreigners, are our brothers, and they have come to this land to make it a dwelling place. We must either christianize them, or they will foreignize our land. May God's richest blessings rest upon this work.

Lord, thy greater love has sent
Thy gospel to mankind,
Unveiling what rich stores of grace
Are treasured in thy mind.
Smile, Lord, on each divine attempt
To spread the gospel's rays,
And build on sin's demolished throne
The temples of thy praise.

Graphics (p.92-1)



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